WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Education is opening an investigation into eight colleges that were part of a massive admissions scandal that involved millions in bribes.
All the involved universities, including Stanford, Yale, and the University of Southern California, confirmed Tuesday they had been informed by the Education Department about the investigation. They didn't give details about the scope of the probe, and the Education Department declined to confirm the investigation.
"We are reviewing the department’s requests and will respond appropriately," said Peter Salovey, Yale's president, in a statement.
It’s unclear what punitive measures such an investigation could involve. The Education Department does have the power to withhold federal money from the colleges.
In the college admissions scandal, feds say, William “Rick” Singer and others faked student test scores, fabricated athletic achievements and bribed coaches. The goal: Get children of the rich and famous into elite and selective colleges like Yale. Singer earned millions for his services.
In its pending investigation, the Education Department will see if there's evidence the institutions violated laws governing student financial aid programs, according to a letter to the University of Texas at Austin, obtained by USA TODAY through a records request. Investigators also will see if the institution engaged "in substantial misrepresentation about the nature of its educational programs," according to the letter, addressed to UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves .
The Education Department requested, among other things, that the college provide information about its accreditation and any marketing material "regarding the selective nature of the institution's programs and the standards employed in the admissions process." The department also requested any communications to organizations that rank colleges, such as U.S. News and World Report, concerning admissions rates.
Two of the eight institutions that feds say were targeted by the scam are public institutions, funded in part by taxpayer money. The other six are private universities, but they can receive federal funding in the form of research grants and student aid.
The individual universities wrapped up in the scandal have also taken some action. Yale rescinded the admission of one student. The University of Southern California also put holds on student accounts associated with the scandal. Others fired employees implicated in the controversy.
Public leaders have started to push for more. In addition to the Education Department investigation, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month called on all the state’s universities to re-evaluate their admissions programs.
Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College admissions scandal: Education Department launches investigation into universities